Beowulf , Grendel, and Intertextuality:. reading an Anglo-Saxon epic through a postmodern novel. Beowulf. Anglo-Saxon epic oral components Transcribed (or composed) by a monk Verse qualities kennings alliteration caesura Structure two part three part Digressions (interlace).
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reading an Anglo-Saxon epic through a postmodern novel
Reconstructed 7th century helmut, Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, England. Now in British Museum.
7th C. Shield, reconstructed from objects found at Sutton Hoo. Now in British Museum.
[see Alistair Fowler, Types of Literature]
Epic, like myth and legend, develops to help a culture solidify its sense of identity
How do we define the group? [Who’s in, who’s out? What stories define our history?]
How should we behave toward each other?
[What are our obligations to one another? What qualities should men and women posses? -- how do we define virtue?]
Are there powers beyond our own, and, if so, how do we relate to them?
meme -- wikipedia
Epic similes [kennings]
Set pieces [battles, banquets, inserted songs]
Trip to underworld– katabasis
Homecoming -- nostos
Objective, narrative voice
48-169 Hrothgar’s mead hall heorot arouses Grendel’s envy
Legal constraints (l. 66)
Foreboding tone (l. 75ff)
Caedmon’s (79-90)—pp. 116, 117 in our text, Bede’s History
Grendel’s arrival – spawn of Cain; but compare lines 108-110 with 8-11
Ironic understatement – 122ff
Christian interpolation – 156ff
Beowulf’s arrival – courtesies among warriors
The monster’s defeat
“What’s your field, Mr. McGarrigle?”
“Well, I did my research on Shakespeare and
T. S. Eliot,” said Persse.
“I could have helped you with that,” Dempsey
butted in. . . . “It would just lend itself nicely to
computerization. . . . All you’d have to do would
be to put the texts on to tape and you could get
the computer to list every word, phrase and
syntactitcal construction that the two writers
had in common. You could precisely quantify
the influence of Shakespeare on T. S. Eliot.”
“But my thesis isn’t about that,” said
Persse. “It’s about the influence of T. S. Eliot
--David Lodge, Small World
A definition –
“a textual strategy which invites, and directs, a double-focused response or ‘interreading’”
“a poetics of relational writing that demands a strategy of relational reading”
A methodology lying somewhere between source studies and cultural semiotics
“the pervasive method by which twentieth century writing articulates its sense of history, its awareness of its dependence on an infinity of texts déjà lus, at the same time as it declares its conditional, ironic, independence”
a style of writing on a “tightrope between ‘exhaustion’ and ‘replenishment”
-- Andreas Höfele, “Twentieth-Century Intertextuality
and the Reading of Shakespeare’s Sources”Intertextuality
Shield Sheafson’s ship burial
Hrothgar builds Heorot
Grendel begins attacks
Grendel as descendent of Cain
Beowulf defeats Grendel
Sigemund slays dragon, is replaced by Heremond
Hrothgar rewards Beowulf
Lay of the Finnsburg
Underscores the transitory nature of success; foreshadows ending
Dual versions of Breca contest emphasize need for interpretation; associate matter of Cain with betrayal of kin
Sapience and strength: or is it cunning? What price glory?
What is a good king? Forshadows ending
Foreshadows Heorot’s second decline, which occurs outside the narrative but is known to the original audience.Interlacing Design
--Style recapitulates structure
in medias res
epic similes – or, at least, lots of similes
low language, bathos
epic theme: pain/stupidity of “my idiotic war”
victim of prejudice, scape-goat Christ-figure
Beowulf as epic
kennings, alliteration, litotes
epic theme: hero as center of national identity
elegaic tone: celebration/loss
Pre-christian, heroic sacrificeInterlacing design:Grendel and Beowulf
zodiac – April is the cruelest month [Ch. 1; Eliot]
“elderly, slow-witted king” [5; Lear]
“the grasses peek up . . . the children of the dead” [7; Eliot]
“if he had sons, they wouldn’t hear his words. They would weigh his silver and his gold in their minds.” [53; Lear]
nihil ex nihilo [Lear, Augustine]
cycle of violence, tone of Wasteland
chronic problem of succession in Beowulf
cycle still present in Europe—WWI, cold war, Balkans
universalizes generation gap
emphasizes theme of creation, (poetry), nihilism(violence)Interlacing design:Grendel, King Lear, and Wasteland
Defend endings of Beowulf and Grendel
Criteria: appropriateness to content, structure, genre,
purpose of author, means of production
Contrast narrative voices of Beowulf, Grendel, Dream of Rood
Debate: Mor(t)ality and Heroism
Introduce elements and themes of medieval romance
(chivalry, courtly love, honor/shame,
Beowulf and Unferth’s relationship after the slaying of Grendel
Beowulf’s honor and loyalty when he returns home [2165 ff, 2367 ff
The theme of the last survivor – ubi sunt – [2235 ff, Wiglaf 2813
Dragon as dignified, worthy opponent [2270 ff.]
Unferth’s brand of heroism; Grendel’s relationship to him
[Grendel : Unferth
_______ : Grendel]
Wealtheow: beauty married to dignity and goodness. Why does Grendel have to rob her of dignity? Is her heroism of a lesser degree or different kind than male heroism? How does she relate to Grendel’s mother?
“quality of life”Something will come of all this . . .The things we haven’t talked enough about:
Eloquent expressions of grief and mourning [revision of the Cain narrative, 2435 ff; Beowulf’s death,
Bargain metaphor: life for hoard (?) or weirgild [2415, 2799, 2843
What is a man worth?
[2600, 2635, 2651
Scorpio, Hrothulf, anarchism, state monopoly on violence—119, kindness 120, indignity 122
Sagitarius, rumors of angels 133 Things fade, alternatives exclude, nothing is lost
The shaper is sick; it is the business of goats to climb 139, 132
courtly love affair – nothing came of it (?) 144
we’re on our own again 146, 149Nihil ex nihilo doesn’t mean that something can’t come from something else . . .
Beowulf’s comfort 2750, 2799,
but ineffective 3015
Expecting the worst
2884, 2999, 3150
Tone: elegaic, praising the passing vir-tues of a lost, heroic age
Strangers have come – by water – beware the fish – walking dead men – like trees
Sing of walls 171
voluntary tumble, death-grip, accident
Alternatives exclude: choice or synthesis?
Tone:But what?Why, what you will . . .
Can the arts make a difference?
What of mor(t)ality?
Do we murder each other
because in the woods
sweet songbirds sing?